The government’s clean growth strategy was published in October with very little fanfare.
While recognising both the economic opportunities of investment as well as the environmental risks of inaction, what it really needs is a bit of local and regional focus. Contrast this with the northern energy strategy published by a ‘taskforce’ of private sector and academic stakeholders working with IPPR North.
With nearly half of all UK renewable power generated in the north of England and extensive scope to scale up offshore wind and develop tidal schemes, the taskforce argued the North has the geological, geographic and historical assets to power and heat the nation. By 2050 the energy economy in the North could be worth £15bn per annum and employ more than 100,000 people at the same time as generating low-cost energy and hitting our climate change targets. The North is leading the way in the transition to a renewable power supply with a flourishing supply chain in research and professional services in areas such as nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
But the real energy revolution sits right under our noses.
The taskforce found the most exciting energy opportunities lie in the great northern towns and cities. As other developed nations are starting to show, the technologies we deploy in our homes and businesses are bringing energy generation and savings much closer to consumers. In the UK, initiatives in the North have been trailblazing in this field. Manchester Carbon Co-op, for example, has adopted ground-breaking approaches to financing and rolling out the retrofitting of homes to massively improve their energy efficiency. The Cheshire Energy Hub is carrying out cutting-edge research on energy storage and developing ‘smart grid systems’ to manage demand as we slowly switch to electric vehicles and new types of heat generation.
But to really unlock these opportunities, areas like Greater Manchester need the freedoms and the funds to invest in local opportunities. The combined authority has been trusted with more responsibility over health and social care. It should similarly strike a local energy devolution deal giving it control over up to £42m each year in return for responsibilities over local energy efficiency and other community energy schemes, working closely with business and energy distributors. Other Northern cities should follow suit.
The ‘big six’ energy suppliers have a poor track record when it comes to cutting our energy consumption – little wonder, really, when you put the fox in charge of the henhouse – but give those responsibilities to our local leaders and they might use the funding more effectively to cut bills and support our more energy intensive industries.
Ed Cox, director, IPPR North @edcox_ippr